COMIC BOOK REVIEW: JUDGE DREDD: THE MEGA COLLECTION VOL 05 – SHAMBALLA / AUTHOR: ALAN GRANT / ARTIST: ARTHUR RANSON / PUBLISHER: REBELLION/HACHETTE / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 18TH
After four volumes of classic Dredd, the Mega Collection partwork turns its attention to Cassandra Anderson, the Psi-Judge with her own spin-off series. Whereas her early stories were basically Judge Dredd strips with a different protagonist, Anderson: Psi Division came into its own in the early 1990s, when writer Alan Grant sent Anderson on adventures of a more mystical nature. Five such stories – Shamballa, The Jesus Syndrome, The Protest, R*volution, and Satan – are reprinted here.
In the title story, Anderson and her counterparts from Sov-Cit search for a mysterious city related to a number of psychic disturbances across the world. This fascinating story makes good use of its exotic settings, though the highlight is Anderson’s relationship with Russian PsiKop Amisov, a romance founded on a deep psychic connection.
In The Jesus Syndrome, Anderson confronts the leader of a dangerous religious sect known as Christianity. It’s a cynical, if unsubtle, satire on the relationship between religion and the state. Similarly, The Protest is a short but bittersweet strip epitomising the anti-establishment satire the world of Mega-City One does best.
R*volution is a grandly daft story in which Anderson visits the private asteroid of a man with six other people assimilated into his mind. Naturally, she gets trapped inside the head of his gorilla servant, and it gets weirder from there.
Finally, Satan sees Mega-City One threatened by, well, Satan (or is it really him?), and there’s only one Psi-Judge who can stop him. It asks some interesting moral questions, though the ending feels too easy, and Grant’s writing never really digs as deeply as it thinks it does.
In fact, that’s a common problem in these stories, which aim big, but often miss the opportunity to really give us Grant’s views on the issues, or cut away before explaining what’s truly going on. This may be the point – Grant wants us to make up our own minds – but there’s often a frustrating feeling that something’s missing.
A strength all Grant’s scripts do share is Cassandra Anderson, who is – dare we say it – a more interesting lead than Joe Dredd. While Dredd’s cold-hearted law-keeping is great for satirical purposes, Anderson is a complex, emotional protagonist who questions herself and her place as a judge. Shamballa in particular exploits that well, with the recent suicide of a colleague laying heavy on her throughout her journey.
Also included in this volume is a fascinating, in-depth interview with Grant and artist Arthur Ranson, exploring the context and religious themes surrounding these stories.
Though not as deep as they could be, these Judge Anderson stories are nonetheless bold, intriguing adventures with their spiritual nature and self-doubting Psi-Judge marking them out as a very different corner of Dredd’s world to add to your collection.
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